Entertainment Weekly Redesigns, Expands and Digitizes Its Signature ‘Must List’

A huge change for the Time Inc. publication

Everything is different. The logo, the layout, the page length. And the biggest change of all: for the first time in Entertainment Weekly’s long history, the beloved front-of-book “Must List” is being duplicated online. It was previously a subscriber and newsstand issue feature only. (The list will post this afternoon at 1 p.m. ET.)

“Must List” editor Kevin P. Sullivan and his colleagues cap the debut rundown with an intriguingly framed recommendation . At #10 is the HBO GO stream of Spike Lee’s 1985 drama Do the Right Thing, which the magazine declares parenthetically to be the best New York movie ever. Let the Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen social media counter-arguments begin!

“We wanted the design to be really fluid and open,” EW creative director Tim Leong tells Fishbowl. “We wanted it to feel like magazine candy, and I think a certain level of simplicity is necessary there so it doesn’t get too overwhelming. Instead of adding in little design doodads to play with, we wanted to play with the typography to make the pages more exciting.”

“For each item, we have fun with the size of the numbers,” he adds. “It really allows the design team to be graphic and bold and breathe new life into the pages every week without looking repetitive. Don’t forget, this all happens in less than a week so having that flexibility is doubly beneficial when we have to crash in a late-breaking item at the last second.”

The “Must List” debuted in the June 13, 2003 issue. Instead of being at the front of the book, the feature at that inaugural time kicked off the magazine’s Reviews section. It was just one page long and, in its first form, included nods to Finding Nemo, Season 2 of The Wire and Coldplay’s song “Clocks.”

Photo by: Mettie Ostrowski

“Having new sidebars really opens up how we can treat things digitally,” Leong (pictured) explains. “Take for example this week’s No. 8, the videogame Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. In the magazine, we added a sidebar that quickly ranks all the games in the Uncharted franchise, so readers can see how it fares relative to the ones that came before it. For the online version, we took this same ranking and expanded it to a 750-word story that goes into much greater detail for each game. So readers will not only get the service of the entire list, but they can also get bonus content.”

The tenth and final selection in each week’s redesigned “Must List” will always be about Streaming. Think of it as Time Inc. tacitly acknowledging we now live in an era of “Netflix and must.”

“We’ve had a page dedicated to streaming content previously but this is the first time we’re doing it on a weekly basis,” says Leong. “We want to really double down on that service to our readers. Trying to figure out what to stream is a massive headache for people. I work at EW and even I go home at night and blankly stare at my TV because I’m crippled by choice. There are just too many good options. Our goal is for this page to take our readers by the hand and guide them on what to watch this week. We’ll do the work so you don’t have to.”

At #3 this week is musical long-form podcast Dissect, yet another reminder of how new technologies relative to 2003 are driving entertainment choices. “The way the process of the “Must List” works is the section editor solicits ideas from the entire EW staff,” says Leong. “Anyone can submit–interns, editors, designers, we want them all. We’ll go over the list in a weekly meeting with the entire staff, discussing each entry as we go. We’ll pick the #1 item first, and then the rest of the list falls into place. We’ve definitely had passionate pleas, but no tears yet.”

As part of the “Must List” redesign, the print magazine’s “News & Notes” section has been retired. In its place, the list will be followed each week in print by a pair of longer news stories spanning two or three pages. This week, it’s three, starting with Joey Nolfi’s look at the risky business of stunt work followed by Chris Nashawaty’s obituary for Jerry Lewis.

Really, as far as this week’s “Must List” is concerned, all that’s left is #10A. E.g. Spike Lee needs to do the Twitter thing.

Previously on Fishbowl:
Entertainment Weekly Newsstand Sales Are Up